| Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a news conference in Ankara on Monday. (Reuters)
Ankara, Nov. 4 (Reuters): Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) began forming a government today after a spectacular election triumph that will raise deep concerns in a secularist establishment wary of the party’s Islamist roots.
Turkey’s closest ally, the US, will be eager to see a new Cabinet in office in about two weeks, the minimum time it will take to form a government. Washington would look to Ankara for support in providing air bases and other facilities for any attack on neighbouring Iraq.
The unexpected scale of AKP’s victory, routing parties blamed by voters for a gruelling economic crisis, will test the fabric of the AKP itself. Founded only a year ago, it has little experience of power, faces a court case to outlaw it and has a leader banned by the courts from taking up any government post.
The Sabah daily called the AKP victory a revolt by Turkey’s increasingly impoverished Anatolian heartland. “Politics has never seen such a widespread liquidation operation,” it said.
Provisional results gave the party more than 360 seats in a 550-seat Assembly. Only one other party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), mustered the 10 per cent needed to enter parliament. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, his fifth term in office drawing to a close, saw his party’s vote sink from 22 per cent in 1999 to little over one per cent.
Former economy minister Kemal Dervis, the architect of Turkey’s $16 billion rescue programme and CHP deputy, said the result could provide Turkey with much-needed stability.
“If we can create a constructive, tolerant working environment and if there is respect for the constitution and clear respect for the concept of the secular republic then I think this election will be useful for Turkey,” he said.
While many were euphoric over the demise of the old order, there were also misgivings.
“The AKP isn’t ready to govern Turkey alone and I’m not sure even they wanted that,” said Rusen Cakir, author of a book on AKP leader and former Islamist firebrand Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “To govern alone they really need time to prepare, gain legitimacy and stature on the domestic and international stage.”
But AKP, which vehemently rejects the Islamist label, will not have the luxury of time. Turkey needs to quickly establish market confidence and safeguard the IMF pact. Urgent issues must be tackled in the coming month in pursuit of Turkey’s European Union membership ambitions.
Erdogan was quoted by a daily as saying he would send envoys to the EU immediately, before forming a government.
Party sources say the AKP was already drawing up a Cabinet list to present to President Ahmet Necdet Sezer as soon as possible after he asks them to form a government.
The Turkish lira, down more than 50 per cent against the dollar since a 2001 crisis, sank to all time lows of over 1.7 million in early trading today before bouncing back, reassured by comments from AKP officials on the IMF programme.
Ali Coskun, tipped as a possible economy minister, said an AKP government would complete reforms needed to earn the next $1.6 billion IMF loan payment before discussing possible revisions to the programme.
”Decisions taken earlier with the IMF continue until we reach mutual agreement,” he told Reuters.
The main stock index soared seven percent in the morning session on optimism a one-party government would be more effective than a string of bickering coalitions in recent years.
”The issue of confidence is going to be a problem,” said Philip Poole, senior emerging markets economist at ING Barings investment bank in London.“The issue of bringing down interest rates and attracting investment will be key.”
Kasper Bartholdy, senior emerging markets economist at CSFB, said the AKP had managed the election well so far.
”They've made all the right noises to the market in terms of what they had promised to the international community before hand, that they would give priority to keeping the IMF programme going in particular,” he said.
Sezer must await official results in four days before formally inviting the AKP to form a government.
Erdogan, banned from any government because of a past conviction for Islamist sedition, will chair a meeting on Tuesday to agree a candidate for prime minister.
In the meantime Ecevit will lead a caretaker cabinet.
MAKING FRIENDS IN THE ESTABLISHMENT
The secularist establishment Ä the army, state apparatus and judiciary Ä will watch Erdogan's progress keenly for any sign of Islamist tendencies. But the generals, a force in Turkish politics, are unlikely to make any public declarations.
”This result will worry a lot of people. The army will wait and see,” said one Western diplomat.“But at least in the short term, Erdogan seems to be going out of his way to dispel any notion of conflict or Islamism.”
Erdogan has learnt from the fate of Turkey's first Islamist government, forced out after a year by an army-led pressure campaign. The process, conducted without tanks or guns, became known as the“postmodern coup” or“fine-tuning of democracy”.
The constitutional court is weighing a case to outlaw the AKP on grounds it breached laws on forming parties. Erdogan also faces trial on charges of illegal earnings dating back to his days as Istanbul mayor.
CHP chief Deniz Baykal said he was resigned to working as sole opposition in the first two-party parliament in 40 years.
Some analysts were encouraged.
”This is the liquidation of a whole political class,” said Tolga Ediz of Lehman Brothers investment bank.“The electorate has voted to change the system. That is very positive.”
The AKP, formed from the“modern” wing of a party banned last year for Islamist militancy, is itself something of a coalition. Politically secularist members rub shoulders with a small minority that would gladly see religious doctrine applied in politics and law.